It’s difficult to describe the events of our third day in Germany. Our destination, the Eagle’s Nest, is a contradiction. It is a place of undeniable beauty where some of the most horrific events of the the 20th century were planned. A tea house, built as a birthday present for Hitler, overlooks the present day Austrian border. At the summit of Kehlstein mountain, it provides breathtaking vistas of the valley some 6,000 feet below. In the morning Nazi leaders hiked through these pleasant vistas and then casually organized the disenfranchisement and subsequent murder of an entire population over afternoon tea. The weight of this place is heavy. Beauty and genocide nestled uncomfortably together. These inconsistencies alone would be enough to make this place weird, but the subsequent years have added another equally peculiar layer. These places of beauty and horror are now a place for tourists from the four corners of the world. Busses, elevators, and hiking paths lead people to this engineering anomaly in the foothills of the Alps. At the top one finds a restaurant where travelers can enjoy traditional Bavarian fare. I ate a mediocre sausage while my colleagues enjoyed a hearty bowl of potato soup in the place where Hitler formally sat. The Eagle's Nest is not a shrine, nor is it a museum. The local government wouldn't allow that. Nor is this place simply commercial kitsch. It is a place of beauty, curiosity, and deep historical significance that many want to see. And where the crowds come so does the industry. Of course when sublime landscapes, genocide, and commercialism intersect it is easy for one to become disoriented.
Germany tries to manage the contradictions with care. A few hundred feet below the Eagle's Nest lies the ruins of Hitler’s house, the Berghof. It could easily be another beacon for tourists, but it isn't. Not wanting a shrine, the Germans blew the house up after the war and they don't include its locations on any of the local maps. Finding it isn't impossible, but it required some hiking, a few wrong turns, and a trek off the beaten path. A few of us decided it was worth the search.
When we found the house's ruins, we weren't alone. A handful of other explorers had made the same journey. The space was quiet, and the half dozen others spoke in whispers. There was a family with their elementary age son climbing over the ruins. An old man held court whispering his thoughts to a few interested listeners. One woman had a camping chair, a novel, and a picnic. Who has a picnic on the ruins of Hitler's house? In the tunnels underneath the home we found swastikas and other neo-Nazi graffiti. At the house itself we found a small shrine made from recycled cans and small candles. Displaying nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, and my understanding is that the local population has no patience with white supremacists seeking to worship at the altar of Hitler. Open adoration of Hitler has consequences. Maybe that is why everyone was whispering. I wondered were these the the type of people to set up shrines to the fallen Nazi party? I don’t know. I do, however, feel safe assuming that they wondered the same about us. This is the concern in the modern world. The hate that inspired the Nazis is not dead, but most people are unwilling to erect a shrine or carry a tiki torch and advertise their hate. In times like these I couldn't help but wonder who was there to celebrate the downfall of the Hitler and who was there pining for his return.
- Eagle's Nest
- Tunnels under Hotel Turken
- Hitler's House
- Documentation Museum
- A train station restaurant with the best pork chops this side of Austria.